When I was young, just in school, we took decisions related to sports and games on a ‘collective’ view determined by the ‘majority’. We would create a circle, place our hands in the middle one over the other, creating a pile with our palms down. We would release our hands, some with the knuckles ups and some with the palms to show. A count was done and that ‘simple’ show of hands determined who won and who lost, majority over minority!
Those were ‘innocent’ acts of our younger days and simple solutions for simple activities.
We later learnt what it was to be first or last or somewhere in the middle. We honoured the one who stood first and subtly underlined how inconsequential it was to be ranked anything else. This was the tiny power structure that was to grow with us into a larger system that included and excluded based on the idea of income, materialism, market economics and greed. This system was sold to us day in and day out through the ‘creativity’ of advertisements, the glamour of celebrities, cinema, banks and the wealth management industry. It was a collective nexus selling a lifestyle that would define every step and stage of life.
Only a few, of course, ‘achieve’ and ‘matter’. They ‘earn’ privileges and the power that comes with it. The often amplified achievements and success stories seduce parents and children into the same reckless journey: a mass movement of sorts with no cause other than personal wealth. And this matrix of mainstream living is seen as a critical ingredient to ‘development’, being ‘modern’, ‘contemporary’ and ‘relevant’. If you did not subscribe to this format of life, you would be irrelevant, not in touch with the world and therefore not modern or developed, even if your mind had evolved to think beyond the mainstream.
Hard work pays, no doubt. But there is only one idea of hard work and how it should pay. There is only one idea of a ladder and how to climb it. There is only one idea of money and how to spend it. There is only one idea of the self and how to exclude others. The idea of exclusion is never discussed, though it is an apparent by-product of the commoditised definition of failure, success and development.
We are repeatedly told hard work is burning the midnight oil in an industrial space delivering millions of rupees to a handful of people, taking home more and more. Of course, the millions you make and the power with it makes the hard work of tilling the land, being a labourer building infrastructure working as a teacher, nurse or artisan or even running a home, very inferior as none of them are seen as achievements or a symbol of success.
The ‘nurturing’ and ‘conditioning’ was (and is) so intense that none of us knew that the foundation being laid then at school was for a competitiveness that was placidly violent. We were being prepared for a race, part of a production line, mere prototypes chasing a dream that had been etched in our minds by a system, not independently by each student. If we all imagined and were allowed to think differently, plurality within the education system would have created more options, disrupting the regimented path of life, livelihood and what achievement and happiness is.
At every step, you are categorised, boxed, qualified and slotted into a world of divisions. Who you are, what you think (if you do), what you feel or want or need, are mostly irrelevant to this structure. If you fitted in you could make a million bucks, success it is, reaching the rarified air, the limits of the sky, closer to heaven, looking down upon the many, enjoying the manufactured battle and victory, totally devoured by this matrix.
The Dalai Lama has repeatedly said that the education system needs to teach compassion and tolerance, implying the need for a heart and inclusion. He warns, “If the present education system continues unchanged, focussed largely on material goals, we will ensure that future generations are only interested in money and power”, dividing people and the world by a false idea of success and happiness.
Today the innocent act in our school days, and the pre-determined paths, has left many a culture and economy living with dangerous fault-lines. The oppression against those who are distant from the system or not favoured by it or are suppressed by the majority is evident in the growing human right violations. At the same time wealth distribution is alarming. According to an Oxfam report released a few months ago, the world’s eight richest billionaires, with their collective wealth, control the same wealth as the poorest half of the globe’s population!
Quoting Oxfam The Guardian says “aggressive wage restraint, tax dodging and the squeezing of producers by companies, adding that businesses were too focused on delivering ever-higher returns to wealthy owners and top executives” was the primary reason for the disparit world today. And this system is the power structure we have catered to for decades now, from the day we went to school. It is this same greed and singular, numbing rhetoric of how to live that has led to the state of environment we’ve reached as a world as we consume every bit of natural resource to cater to ‘development’.
It is obvious that the base level education system, particularly in schools and colleges, needs to change to include a consciousness that goes beyond the market and careers. It needs to challenge the one idea of success, careers, lifestyles or even of a dream so that it includes more thoughts, questions and paths while challenging the oppressive system of economics that the world has lived with.
There are emerging platforms such as Open Society Foundations (OSF) which attempt to reverse the basic schooling system that usually excludes on language, race, religion, gender, disability and poverty. The OSF “avoids binary narratives of good and bad”. If we included what the Dalai Lama has said then we would care for each other and the nature around us, moving our focus from merely material things to a more evolved mind and soul. As the OSF says, schools, after all “provide the context for a child’s first relationship with the world outside their families.”
And this is the foundation – we should never forget – from where the change can germinate.